“Is he still alive?” My voice was the barest of whispers, which had made both the thugs grin.
“He might be. The old man, not so much.”
I just closed my eyes and tried to think of a way that any of this could end without people I loved dying. I didn’t see any way for that to happen.
The rest of the ride after they had pulled me into the SUV had been silent. I could smell fear and anxiety pouring off of me, could feel silent tears running down my face, and when the SUV stopped and Nassir appeared to pull me out of the backseat, I was such a mess I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. He had to yank me up and he gave me a hard look.
“This is why they say love kills, honey. You need to pick your boyfriends more carefully.”
I had just looked at him numbly and blinked eyelashes that were sticky with moisture. “He’ll kill you.”
Nassir had sighed and started to drag me through the empty club. I could hear the echo of voices, could hear Bax’s low and so very angry tone. I was scared, but something inside of me knew that as long as he was still alive, Bax would do everything in his power to try and get us out of this as unscathed as he could.
“He’ll kill everyone. You have no idea who you are actually dealing with, little girl.”
The rest of it had happened in slow motion. I was handed off to Novak, a living, breathing carbon copy of the troubled young man I was in love with. Even if I hadn’t heard him call Bax “son,” I would have known. They had the same hulking build, the same bottomless black eyes, and even though he was a couple decades younger, Bax had the innate aura of a man you did not want to mess with, just like his father. It was shocking, but not nearly as much as the sight of Titus, beaten and held in the circle of bad guys. There were no heroes left to come riding to the rescue, and the bad guys most definitely had the upper hand.
When Novak grabbed me around the throat, it had taken everything I had not to panic. I couldn’t stop crying and I’m sure I said Bax’s name over and over again. It was the only prayer I could think of at the time.
The knife hurt when it had cut me open. The sting sharp and real. I had to scream, even though I knew Novak did it solely to get a reaction out of Bax. I wanted to be stoic and strong, but the blood was warm and heavy and the coppery scent was making me dizzy. When the blade had moved to the opposite side of my chest, I thought I was going to pass out. Bax was starting to fade in and out of my vision, and whatever was being said around me was just ghosts of words that meant nothing. Being held by Novak, watching my blood roll over his fingers, I suddenly understood there was a difference between bad and evil.
Everything stopped, the room went still, and all I could hear was Titus screaming his brother’s name. I would never, not ever, be able to forget the sight of Bax with that gun pointed up under his chin. It was crazy and desperate, just like him. He was looking at me, asking me to understand why he had to do it, while I begged and pleaded with him to stop. I would never be able to go on if he forced me to watch him die by his own hand. It was a raw, brutal kind of violence that would literally destroy me.
I heard Nassir swear and say something about Bax being an overly dramatic fool, and the next thing I knew, he was pulling me away from Novak by my wrist as a shower of glass from the industrial skylights above us came showering down. I opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but Titus had gotten free and tackled Bax to the ground, sending the gun flying in the direction Nassir had herded me.
The ugly black pistol that had been poised to end the life of the man I loved stopped just inches from the toe of my sneaker and I just stared at it. I had so much blood leaking out of me I wasn’t sure I could stay conscious much longer, but now I had enough strength left, enough anger and disgust at all this man had put me and those I loved through, that I had pulled away from Nassir and bent to pick it up.
I heard the handsome criminal tell me no, tell me to let the feds handle it, but I saw Novak moving toward Bax and Titus, thought of my brother possibly dead, and felt my own life force steadily pouring out of me. I pulled the trigger. I didn’t aim, didn’t care where the bullet hit, I just wanted to make him stop.
The next thing I knew I was on the ground, surrounded by Bax’s heat, and he was kissing my stunned mouth. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I wasn’t scared of going to jail for him like he had done for Race, but he wouldn’t let me talk or argue when he pulled the gun out of my frozen hands. We were pulled apart by men dressed in scary black tactical gear. Bax laced his fingers together and put them behind his head. It made me shiver how familiar with the routine he was.
I was struggling to make my lethargic limbs respond when I heard him tell the fed, “I shot Novak.”
I wanted to argue, to tell them that it was me, but the next thing I knew I was being lifted and strapped to a stretcher and a paramedic was asking my blood type and talking about stitches and plastic surgery. I couldn’t follow. I wanted Bax. I tried to keep my eyes on him, but he was getting handcuffs snapped on and I was getting rolled out into the night. It wasn’t until he gave me that grin, that small twitch of his lips letting me know he would go back to prison, would sacrifice his life in another way for me, that I got hysterical.
I was sure the paramedic sedated me because when I finally woke up, finally shook the fuzz out from between my ears, I was in a hospital, my chest was bandaged up like a mummy, and I had tubes and wires sticking out from me all over the place. I didn’t know what time it was, or how much time had passed, but I knew I needed to find out about Race and talk to someone about Bax. I wasn’t going to let him go back to jail for something he didn’t do.
I tried to lift a hand to touch my chest, but a gruff voice from somewhere off to my right made me stop. Not to mention, the slightest movement made my upper body feel like it was ripping apart at the seams.
“I wouldn’t do that. You have more needlework on you right now than a quilt.”
I shifted my eyes and squinted until Bax’s older brother came into focus. He looked terrible. His face was a mess, twin black eyes, a swollen lip, and it looked like he had his own set of stitches running across one of his cheeks and near one of his ears. Beyond that, he looked tired, and if the dark scruff shadowing his face was any indication, he hadn’t been home in a while.
“How’s Race? Where’s Bax? How long have I been in here?” I had a million questions and they were all tumbling out in a slurred rush.
Titus groaned and climbed slowly to his feet. He was cradling his ribs as he walked to my bedside.